ZOË SULLIVAN-BLUM- I have had a whirlwind of experiences with my host family situation. I moved into a new homestay after a week and ever since then my experience with my host family has been everything I could have hoped for and more. The members of my Spanish family are kind, sweet, intelligent, caring people who instantly made me feel at home. Antonio and Maria Eugenia, my host parents, welcomed me as a temporary third child (in addition to my two host brothers, Diego and Alfonso) with open arms into their sunny, cozy house, filled with books and all kinds of artwork and two precious cats. Of course my luck made sure that I did everything possible to be a difficult guest in this lovely home filled with lovely people. My very first day—after moving my things into my spacious and sunlit room, complete with adorable little accompanying bathroom in a pseudo-second floor of the family “piso” (flat/large apartment)—I tripped on my way to join the family for dinner and tumbled down the stairs, slicing open my foot, bruising my tailbone, and proceeding to shed blood and tears all over the freshly cleaned house of my startled-looking new family. They, of course, handled it with all of the love and grace that incredibly good people do when confronted with a loud, cursing, crying, bleeding American girl. They cleaned and bandaged my foot, made sure I didn’t need stiches, ran out to get my all of the necessary wound dressings and medicines that I would need, and proceeded to dote on me accordingly for the next week or so.
After my foot healed, I managed to contract a stomach bug, confining me to my bed for several days as Maria Eugenia brought me pieces of toast and glasses of Aquarius (a type of electrolyte drink made by Coca-Cola and similar to Gatorade that I have never seen before entering Spain). At the same time, my 19-year-old host brother Alfonso was sick with a sore throat, causing Maria Eugenia to joke about running a hospital. As I apologized over and over, straining to speak Spanish while all I felt like doing was curling up in a weak, sick ball and disowning this tiring, foreign language forever, I realized how truly happy Maria Eugenia was to be taking care of me. I was already part of the family in her eyes. She worried about me ostensibly as much as her own son, and this, in my sickly state, really touched me.
After I recovered I began to feel less apologetic and more confident with my host family. I definitely still thank Maria Eugenia profusely for every breakfast and dinner that she makes and force myself to take short, unobtrusive showers, but I also adamantly discuss politics and culture with Maria Eugenia and Antonio; joke with Diego (my 15-year-old host brother); talk about school with Alfonso; ask for more flan if I want some once in awhile. I am slowly but surely becoming more confident with my Spanish abilities as I discuss all kinds of cultural differences with my own little band of Spaniards, and with every passing day I come to know them better.
I have realized that not only is it the increased conversation that has made us closer, but my own acceptance of the acts of kindness from my family. I visited a friend in Copenhagen this weekend, and as the plane landed in Madrid late Sunday night, I felt strangely relieved to be back. I had an amazing time in Denmark, but just as exciting as the trip was the realization that coming back to Madrid felt like coming home. Previously I had only been homesick for my homes in Corning and Saratoga Springs, but as I walked off of the plane that night I realized I had become homesick for Madrid as well. As I walked through my front door well after midnight, carefully placing my keys in my pocket so as not to wake my host family, I turned to see Maria Eugenia sitting at the kitchen table in a virtual halo of light, a plate of warm, freshly made crepes with “nata y miel” (whipped cream and honey) waiting for me on the table in front of her. As she gave me the typical “besos” (kisses) of greeting and pointed towards the crepes, urging me to eat, she told me apologetically that she needed to go to bed because she had to wake up at 6:30 the next morning. As I sat down and took my first bite of crepe,
I thought about how astoundingly loving it was that a woman I’d known for three weeks had stayed up far past her usual bedtime, sacrificing sleep, to prepare such delicious food for me after only a weekend away. As I went upstairs and found my laundry meticulously and tenderly cleaned and folded, placed in a neat little stack on my desk, I realized that the main reason Madrid had already come to feel like home, like a place I missed after only two and a half days away, was because of the loving embrace of my host family. It is because of them—because of Antonio, Alfonso, Diego, and especially Maria Eugenia—that I finally feel like returning to Madrid means coming home.